Dissonance and Linear Structures
Tonal music is
multi-layered. As we learn
how to play a piece, we may move from
(1) getting the individual notes right to
(2) phrasing small groups of notes together to
(3) thinking about phrases and cadences to
(4) thinking about ways that phrases group together to form
periods or sections to
(5) thinking about still larger spans of musical time and how
they relate to one another to
(6) thinking about a piece of music as a whole.
We may also learn a piece by moving in the opposite direction,
from consideration of the piece as a whole to consideration of
smaller and smaller details. Most of us most of the time probably
learn most music by combining "bottom-up" and "top-down"
It follows from this that some notes and groups of notes are
structurally more essential than others: we
understand less essential notes in terms of the more essential notes
notes are conceptually dependent
on the consonant notes from which they are derived;
we understand a dissonant note in terms of the
consonant notes around it.
II. A primer on dissonance and linear structures
The following discussion of dissonance first considers the
process by which simple triadic structures are elaborated by the
addition of consonant
passing tones and neighbor notes to create simple tonal
melodies. Then it considers the analogous process by which surface
elaboration further embellishes such simple melodies. This latter
process is what we call "dissonance" on an everyday basis. It is
actually only the most foreground manifestation of a process that
goes on at all levels of musical form.